Aren’t links wonderful? Someone on TheoGreek has noticed my work with Cyril of Alexandria, and asks questions about it, and why I’m writing about him. I’m flattered! But rather than write a long comment there, I thought I’d blog about it here.
I suppose that I have been looking at Cyril’s works a lot lately. As part of my hobby to digitise patristic works, sooner or later I was going to reach Cyril. His big commentaries on Luke and John and the anti-Nestorian works published in the Library of the Fathers were all silently omitted from the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers series, despite there being available translations which could be pirated for the series. Perhaps that says something about his reputation in the west! Naturally I have scanned these, and indeed found snippets of genuine pastoral wisdom in the sermons on Luke. He may be a bit of a dodgy character, to us, but he is widely revered in the Greek orthodox and eastern orthodox churches, as my correspondence shows. I’m trying to keep an open mind.
His controversial works from the Nestorian period are mostly untranslated. This is a shame. I have commissioned a translation of one of them, the Apologeticus ad imperatorem, as I said elsewhere. The others ought to be available, and I have a translator, but whether I can afford to do it I don’t know! It’s not as if I really want to read De recta fide after all. But… access is all.
The other text that really should exist in English is his reply to Julian the Apostate’s attack on Christianity. Contra Julianum needs to be translated and online. A critical text is being prepared in Switzerland, and I hope to do something with this in due course. This work would cost around $10,000 to translate. Ouch! But it really, really must be done.
Then there is Norman Russell’s excellent book on Cyril. Tellingly it starts by quoting a sermon by Theodoret written after the death of Cyril in which he hopes that someone will bury Cyril under a large rock, in case he comes back again! Apparently the sermon is probably spurious, tho.
Was Cyril corrupt? Politically he was, in his role as Mob-boss of Alexandria. But… is it quite fair to condemn a man for using the methods necessary to get his way in a corrupt society? It is easy for Christians today to say that it was. The means corrupt the end. We all know this. And yet, we live in a society in which the Christians are being forced out of the churches by those willing to use corrupt means. Cyril would have suggested that we were simply wimping out, I think. It will be interesting to see if he indicates anything like this in the Apologeticus, defending his conduct.
I don’t pretend to know. But it is useless to attempt to evade the fact that some churchmen have been wicked men, and others who are revered have been accustomed to methods that we find disgusting. We know that the church has become corrupted whenever it wields political power, as the Borgia Pope proves. But however we think about the past, we need to recognise the reality of sin, in the history of the church and in the lives of too many of its most eminent men. Let us avoid their mistakes, let us pray for them, and also for ourselves: “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner”. If Tertullian could invite the prayers of the newly baptised for “Tertullian, a sinner” in De baptismo, we need not shrink from doing the same.